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Customer is king NO Customer is KILLED


14 October 2013 04:39 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


By Richard S. Rajapaksa

There are instances when murder is legal.
There are instances when not only it is legal but also profitable and survives as profession, where the killers work from plush offices, use luxury cars and get big bonuses. They dine in style and holiday in exotic locations. No, it is not the mafia or any other international cartel.
It is the multinational tobacco trade.

With reference and given the fact to the statistical proof of the number of deaths caused every year it is undoubtedly the most cold-blooded and ruthless industry in existence. This is the only trade where the customer dies when the product is used according to the intention and the instructions of the manufacturer. Is it any different from the arms trade? Yes, it is.  The products of the arms trade are used by its clients to harm the enemy or those loyal to the enemy. Tobacco kills its own loyal customer. And this happens in a day and age when the market or the consumer is united under the often cliched slogan the ‘customer is king’.

A product  that has no known safe level of use and kills half of its users. A product that is addictive.  A product  that has been marketed to children over many years. A product  that even kills men, women and children unfortunate enough to be exposed to its toxic fumes. A product  that has over 4000 toxic substances that include over 70 cancer causing chemicals and many more poisons. Arsenic, cadmium, polonium 210, formaldehyde, chromium and benzene are some of these components, which we have heard of in other contexts, all cause cancer in humans. Ever heard of Acrolein? It was formerly used in chemical weapons. Hydrogen  cyanide? Yes. Ammonia?  Yes. Nitrosamines?  Yes. There are all there.

It is also a unique industry as it has to snare new customers each day, to replace customers who die as a result of using its products. This industry is rich enough to hire the brightest and the most talented graduates from various disciplines in most parts of the world. And those from prominent, aristocratic families with access. How such intelligent beings are made to gradually cross over to the dark side should be an interesting study for those interested in human nature. Prolonged exposure to view points, however repulsive, can change even the brightest minds. History is replete with such examples.

Will such a product be allowed to be marketed if invented today? Most unlikely, by any stretch of imagination. So how does this industry survive and prosper in this age of transparency, democracy, human rights, high brow philosophy and sophisticated economics? Especially in an age where there are “international” calls for “credible” investigations even for imagined murder?

Basically, it is a beast that moulds the environment to suit its needs. Over the last century this creature has succeeded in creating an environment that helps it to feed itself. This industry beast has many parallels with its basic raw material, the tobacco leaf. It sucks the nutrition out of the soil which nurtures it and makes it infertile within a very short period of time. It also harms the very people, the tobacco farmers, that nurture it and provide it sustenance. Green Tobacco sickness is the reward the tobacco leaf gives the farmers.

In most countries of the world, the four pillars of democracy has been used insidiously and incessantly over decades for this purpose. In addition to devouring its own customers it also nibbles the four pillars continuously to suit its needs. The four pillars may not feel the nibbles. But, over decades, its shape and functions have changed to suit the continued murder of the hapless victims by this trade.

The dark world of this beast was partially illuminated during a court process in the United States of America during the 1990’s. In 1998, The Master Settlement reached by 46 States of the United States of America and the five largest tobacco companies in that country. Among the conditions of the settlement was to make internal documents of these five companies public. These documents are now stored in depositories in the US and UK and can be accessed through the internet. These previously secret documents give us an insight to how the beast thought, worked, snared victims and sustained itself.

" How does it thrive? Who or what supports its existence? Money and contacts. Lobbyists and lawyers. Politics and bureaucracy. Inducements and propaganda. "
It is not a pretty picture. The documents show that the industry knew for over fifty years that nicotine was addictive but kept denying it publicly.  At same time, it fine tuned levels of nicotine in cigarettes to keep it users hooked. They show how the industry marketed this product to children, to replace those who were dying from tobacco use. The documents also show how the tobacco trade paid scientist to muddy the evidence of the harms of second hand smoke. The list goes on.

These documents also shed light on how the four pillars are moulded to suit its needs. Phillip Morris is the largest multinational tobacco company in the world. In one of their documents, in 1995, the Senior Vice-President, Worldwide Regulatory Affairs of Philip Morris says: “Our goal is to help shape regulatory environments that enable our businesses to achieve their objectives in all locations where we do business. Our overall approach to the issues is to fight aggressively with all available resources, against any attempt, from any quarter, to diminish our ability to manufacture our products efficiently, and market them effectively .  In short, we are very clear about our objective—an unyielding and aggressive defence of our rights to make and sell our products and our consumers’ rights to have a free marketplace so that they can choose and use those products.”(Source: Philip Morris. Corporate worldwide regulatory affairs issues review, prospects and plans, 29 April 1995. Bates No. 2044046538-2044046586. Accessed 8 October 2013)

This gives some insight to the nature of the beast. Despite its rhetoric of being responsible and caring, it is relentlessly pursing profits. Which means increasing sales. Which in turn means, new victims and misery for those unfortunate enough to fall into its clutches.

Then the subsequent question arises, that how with all these damning evidence that is displayed and in public knowledge, does the industry  thrive?  Who or what supports its existence? Money and contacts. Lobbyists and lawyers. Politics and bureaucracy. Inducements and propaganda. Uninformed media. And more.
Lobbying at every level has been the forte of this industry.  On September 7, this year, the Guardian, UK, reported how the tobacco industry employed 161 people to delay a proposed tobacco products directive, a major piece of European Union legislation to be voted in the European parliament. This legislation would have forced cigarette companies to include large pictorial health warnings on tobacco products covering 75% of the front and back of packs. There would also be a ban on all flavoured tobacco products – such as menthol, vanilla and strawberry – and on slim cigarettes and slim cigarette packs. Such packaging is particularly attractive to younger smokers and to women.

Many arguments are used by the propaganda arm of the beast to justify its existence in developing countries. The ‘Economic benefits to the GDP is the most potent and powerful argument that has time and again been used to drive a point through, and which has been effective with the legislators and policy makers of a country. Jobs, growth, value addition, government income. Each of these are false and are akin to the idiom ‘a lie told a hundred times over becomes the truth’. The World Bank itself, a world-wide promoter of capitalist values and free economies recommend governments to stay away from tobacco. This institution states that tobacco is a net loss to economies. Economists argue the number of jobs in a country will actually increase if the tobacco industry vanishes overnight. It will also increase government revenue. This is because the money spent on tobacco will not vanish into thin air but will be spent on other goods and services.

What is the solution?  The same question posed before is the best starting point. If cigarettes were invented today, will it be allowed to be manufactured and marketed? No. Then, should it be allowed to be manufactured and marketed now? No. The historical mistake should be corrected. The beast traps its prey every second. Those working for the beast directly and indirectly become less human every second. Both are victims. Both should be saved.

The endless endeavour of the tobacco beast to squeeze profits out of helpless addicts must stop. Piecemeal policies abandoned. Rhetoric rejected. Propaganda exposed. The stooges shamed. The beast should be confronted and cornered. The endgame should start now.

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